Michele Lupini - Cars in Action, Marbella, Spain
Thu, 19 Jul 2007
Ascari is a private racetrack ó there are no actual races there. Itís for gentlemen to take a spin in their classic racecars, or old F1 machines. Itís custom built to simulate the best aspects of the worldís greatest racetracks and itís an absolutely stunning track to drive.
Add the all-new BMW M3 with its high-revving four-litre V8 to the equation and we have the recipe for a day I will not forgetÖ
BMW never let us do flying laps ó rather we visited the pits at the end of each of our ten laps and were lined up again for the next to retain some semblance of order. Ten laps were enough to get it right and my last had to be the blinder I failed to string together so far...
Out the pits this last time I omitted the instruction to pull away gently ó gave it a few grand, dumped the clutch. M3 set down on its haunches and spun those big 18Ē gunmetal wheels wrapped in the latest Michelin Pilots right through first and well into second, the cone funnel feeding us onto the correct line for turn one seeming far narrower following proper acceleration this time as I snick into third.
Almost immediately I slam on the brakes and those giant composite alley hub-steel rotors clamped by a monster single-piston calliper press the nose down as my eyes stretch their lids, I turn in late, sharp. Back into second and the nose obeys like a faithful terrier as the car clips an apex Iíve struggled to find all day and it drops down as the radius of the hairpin opens.
Short-shift into third to stop the tail getting happy and the V8 grunts urgently toward the fast approaching S-bend. Itís pretty much an M5ís V10 with two pots lopped off and it revs even higher. I use every last one of those 8400rpm to slip back to third a ball hair this side of the limiter. A big boot on the brakes again and lift off as I turn in to bring the inside apex up and I run down that rumble strip to be ideally placed for the switch into the right hander. It gets a little squirrely on the way out and I almost get to the limiter this time before jabbing the brake and turning up the long right-hander that followsÖ
M3 has a totally different suspension to the 3-Series coupe and itís working hard. Thereís a little loss of traction but thatís cool ó this is the best Iíve got the first bit of the lap and Iím happy because itís also my last. Remember, all the electronics are off ó while brilliant on the road as noted yesterday, they get in the way on the limit on-track.
Hard onto the brakes now for the first of the two tight hairpins and the nose drops hard, l let it run quite far in on the brakes and set it up nicely for the big full-power drift to follow. Weíre in second at about five grand when I give it and the rest is up to M3ís brilliant M-differential that can now fully lock if need be. It must be fully locked as the tail breaks and thereís a cloud of tyre smoke in the mirrors, M3 proceeding towards the coming plunge left with the driver literally looking out the left-side windowÖ.
The chassis works hard through there ó itís banked and an awesome place to drift but I want it neat. I manage to keep it tidy and flat out, the car creaking and writhing under full power. A tricky right-left-right complex follows and you need to be wary of the back breaking and rubbing off speed and I get that right, too, finally getting M3 to flow into the long last right-hander, not lifting this time around.
Then itís over a mini-rise before itís hard on the brakes for a tight left-hand hairpin Iíve been battling with all day ó mainly because the photographer was there and I was putting on the style ó but this time I brake early enough to get the nose in sharply, clip the apex and again drift all the way out but pick up speed quickly for the following daunting double-left kinked dogleg straight. Iím through third, well into fourth and keep it flat through the first kink, this time using all the road on the way out and easing up onto the rumble strip approaching the second kink very quickly. I take a deep breath and rush M3 through ó flat out again.
M3ís acceleration and poise ó and its monster braking ó are all breathtaking as I drop down to third under heavy braking for another harder-left up into a little chicane, which I prefer to run through hard in third than second because M3ís stunning grunt out of there through another long banked left hander is the best way out to keep it full tapsÖ
Around that long bend, Ascari plunges down and over another troublesome little chicane through the dip. I cut the right-left apexes to keep the car as settled as I can because it gets angry on the exit. I did that quite well, the tail does not break and I get the nose into the right flick that leads into another long, banked left-hander M3 takes in its stride now itís set up right for it.
The banked bit leads into a Laguna Seca-like tight left-easy right corkscrew. I brake hard and sharp and decide Iím happy with my rapidly ending last lap, so letís finish it in a bit of style. I toss it in hard urging the tail out and let the moment snap it back as I get it into third and the back comes round the other side perfectly for the change in direction. M3 settles down sideways and commences a fast but poised 150m flat out drift, the V8 screaming, tyres wailing and blue smoke not unlike a thunder cloud behind.
It steps easily and stylishly back into line and I lift off, slip into the pits, my job done ó my last lap a beauty.
No. M3 isnít an easy car to drive fast ó itís rather brutal, quick and hugely rewarding in the right hands and like that, itís a driverís tool to the tee. Respect it and M3 will respect you back, but unlike certain rivals that will unduly reward hands without talent, if youíre not up to it, rather leave the M3ís awesome electronic assistants on when you try drive it fast.
On the track, BMWīs new V8 M3 is an astounding car to drive flat out. Better be sure you can handle it before you go out and do it, thoughÖ
The new M3 arrives in SA end-August and is set to go head to head not only with Audiís similarly powerful AWD RS4 and Mercīs also to be launched C63 AMG, but also perhaps with Lexusí IS-F, so if you are in the market for a new mid-exec rocket ship, youíre Ďgonna be so spoiled for choice.
But if itís a pure driving machine you are after out of that lot, Iím already willing to stick my neck out and predict the M3 will undoubtedly be that car. In my mind, itís already the obvious choiceÖ